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Leave it to Robert Duvall to carry this film and possibly pick up an Oscar nomination. I’m not going to call him a front runner, but with this performance, expect him to be on a whole lot of year end lists.

Duvall, for those asking, plays Felix Bush, a hermit who lives in a cabin (probably built by his own hands) nearing the end of his life. He gets the idea one day, after hearing of another person’s passing, to stage a funeral, but to do so while he’s still alive. A party for himself, essentially. The church doesn’t buy into it – apparently Bush doesn’t need to pay, only ask for forgiveness, both of which he’ll subsequently do throughout the film – but an unscrupulous funeral director, Frank Quinn, does (Murray, channeling what makes him great), immediately noticing the wad of cash and imagining a big pay off in the end. His assistant, Buddy Robinson (Black, in a capable and competent role), has a reluctance at first, but Bush finds a sort of connection with him. As we learn through the film, there are reasons for why Bush has become a hermit, mainly through the interactions of Mattie Darrow (Spacek). Well, her, and the burning house in the beginning.

The story itself it generally good, albeit not that remarkable. It’s the performances that drive it, especially the four leads. Duvall plays the old hermit remarkably well, going between this quiet intensity and an acute reluctance to open up on his past. Murray is Murray, hiding a stash of liquor in his desk and being the erstwhile salesman in his leisurely mannerisms. Lucas Black I haven’t seen before, but he handles himself well: his is the growing up role, going between preparing to someday either run his own funeral business, and also maintaining a new family in the process. It’s definitely tiring work. And Spacek is good, being both collected and angry when it comes to Felix Bush and his anxieties in life.

Not bad all around, marked by a remarkable, late career performance by Duvall.

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Sometimes, it takes something truly horrifying to realize that the way you live your life is completely destructive, not only to yourself, but to the people around you.  There are multiple instances that lead up to that point, but it isn’t until that single defining moment, when you’re caught doing that destructive measure that caused this single moment, that you realize that you truly messed up.

That is the heart and soul of the character of Bad Blake, a down on his luck country singer who travels around in his ’78 Suburban, smokes heavily, and drinks even harder.  He plays his gigs, at small places, far smaller than he’s used to: a bowling alley, a small bar, any place that his agent can find him.  He hasn’t written a song in several years, and he can’t get an album deal until he writes songs.

He meets a woman along the way: Jane, a music journalist from Santa Fe.  The two instantly become smitten with each other.  Jane has had a history of bad men, while Bad has had five wives, all probably leaving him for the same reasons: the constant touring, the constant boozing.  Jane has a son, Buddy, who is four years old.  She tells Bad one thing: don’t drink in front of Buddy.

You can see where this is going.  Suffice to say, the everyday story is done quite well here.  Jeff Bridges is stellar here, both in his acting (he owns the role completely) and his musicianship (a fine singer and guitar player, even at his old age).  The movie that was originally doomed for a DVD release became a late season hit for Bridges, and he deserves all the awards he’ll be getting, including the Academy Award next week (he’s all but assured of it).

The supporting roles are excellent as well: Maggie Gyllenhaal is Jane (balancing both single motherhood and journalistic engagement quite, as well as a stumbling, bumbling Blake), Robert Duvall as Wayne, a bar owner in Houston who acts as a mentor to Blake (probably his best role as the father figure in Duvall’s old age), and Colin Farrell as Tommy Sweet, a fellow country musician who made it big as a result of Blake’s mentoring, who also didn’t forget about Blake.

It’s actually this character that I was most surprised about in this film.  The normal cliche would be for the student to forget about his mentor and to say he did it all on his own.  Tommy doesn’t: he recognizes Bad for what he did and offers him whatever help he can give him: opening on his tour, song writing credits, anything.  Bad alludes to bad blood that happens between them early on, but as we learn when they meet, it was a matter of life catching up to them and setting their priorities: Tommy had his priorities, and so did Bad.  Both chose different, and while it strained their relationship, it never completely set them apart, as shown by Tommy’s repeated insistence in helping his mentor.  Note: Colin Farrell can actually sing quite well too, which was a surprise in itself.

So we shall have to thank the forces to be, whomever they are or were, that saw this film and saw how great Jeff Bridges was in it and gave it life.  It’s often compared to The Wrestler in terms of its story (and bringing universal accolade and revival of Mickey Rourke’s career), but I think there is a better film to compare it too, and from the same year: Slumdog Millionaire.  The little film that could also was brought to life from a potentially crippling straight-to-video release, and it went on to win the Academy Award for best picture last year.  While Crazy Heart doesn’t have the best picture nomination, it’s assured of winning two of its three nominations (Bridges for best actor, the song “Weary Kind”), which is stellar indeed.  See this film.

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